Assessment of Food Offerings and Marketing Strategies in the Food-Service Venues at California Children's Hospitals

Researchers sought to determine if the food-service offerings in children’s hospitals exemplify a healthy food environment for the hospital staff and visiting families. They modified a widely used nutrition scale for restaurants and applied it to the cafeterias and fast-food restaurants in 14 children’s hospitals in California.

Healthy. All of the venues offered low-fat or skim milk and diet soda, most offered baked chips, fruit without sugar, a salad bar and non-fried vegetables outside of the salad bar. About half had nutrition information on the menu or healthy item designations, whereas about one-third had nutrition information at the point of purchase. Half the venues had low-fat or fat-free salad dressing. Less than half had signs encouraging healthy eating.

Unhealthy. Most venues had high-calorie impulse items—such as ice cream, cookies and candy—at or near the checkout register. Half offered combo options that gave a discount for purchasing an entree with a side and a drink. In hospitals that served healthy entrees, 38 percent of the venues priced healthy entrees, on average, higher than the unhealthy entrees.

The researchers note that many inexpensive options for improving the food environment were underused, such as providing nutritional information and incorporating signage that promotes healthy food choices.